Fantasy Fridays

The Cockatrice BoysA nice New Yorker piece on Joan Aiken - although I take offence at the title.

A week left to enter the BAME Short Story Prize, with 4th Estate.

A very nice copy of The Hunting of the Snark.

"Fantasy exists badly" - discussion of a recent symposium at the University of Glasgow.

Hope to see you tomorrow at the launch of The Best of British Fantasy 2018! (Remember: Star of Kings from 1 pm.)

For those missing out on the fun, please stay tuned for other events. Plus, we're about to open submissions for... well, I bet you can guess.

Bête by Adam Roberts (2014)


Bête is set in a world where green activists (or terrorists - depending where you stand on the story's events) develop a microchip that allows animals the power of speech. Although the initial wave of 'cunning' animals is small, the chips are easily replicated and passed on - before long, hundreds of thousands of 'Bêtes' on are on the prowl. As well as the expected results (our protagonist, a cattle farmer is suddenly out of a job as Britain goes vegan), there are great repercussions: what does it mean to be 'human'? Or a 'citizen'? To be represented, and, quite literally, heard?

Roberts is one of the modern masters of 'big idea' science fiction - a single concept, extrapolated and explored through all its various ramifications and permutations. And the talking animals of Bête are no exception - but like his literary predecessors, Roberts cleverly limits the story to something more manageable. Bête is, for example, a quintessentially British novel - along the lines of After London or even the works of John Wyndham, one gets the impression that the world extends only so far as the ocean.

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Fantasy Fridays

Titus Alone

Stanley Kubrick exhibition opening at London's Design Museum.

And, although more SF than F, a cool season of AI stuff at the Barbican.

The full Bradford Literature Festival programme is now live.

A Mervyn Peake exhibition at The Last Tuesday Society's Museum of Curiosities.

A discussion panel at Foyles, celebrating the Women's Fiction Prize. Plus a session in July with illustrator Chris Mould and Iron Man (not that one).

Lauren James speaking in Nottingham. And a panel on Queering Fantasy.

Still tickets available for Dublin's WorldCon and Edinburgh's Cymera.

A summer full of events at Forbidden Planet, including Watchmen, Den Patrick, Derek Landy, and Max Brooks.

And, best of all - next Saturday - the launch party for The Best of British Fantasy! (Star of Kings, London, from 1 pm, no tickets needed, Facebook RSVP if so inclined...)

Where to begin with E. Nesbit?

"After Lewis Carroll, E. Nesbit is the best of the English fabulists who wrote about children (neither wrote for children) and like Carroll she was able to create a world of magic and inverted logic that was entirely her own." - Gore Vidal

"There is no bond like having read and liked the same books." - E. Nesbit

The Enchanted Castle

Edith Nesbit, aka Edith Bland (married name), known to most of us as E. Nesbit, lived from 1858-1924, and she had a really interesting, convoluted life. Her husband had an affair with a friend of hers, and the friend/mistress came to live with them as a housekeeper. Edith and her husband had 3 children but adopted the housekeeper's 2 children (...that wound up being Edith's husband's real children).

Everything about her husband screams "OMG RED FLAG" to me. He lived with his mother and had a kid with another woman who thought they were engaged at the same time that a pregnant Edith was marrying him. The other woman? A friend of his mother's, so he continued to live at home with mom after marrying Edith because he didn't want mom to know that he had gotten married to someone else. He apparently went broke frequently also. One website I read called him "feckless" and while I think it fits, I don't think it goes far enough. I do think of words with "f" and "c" and "k" in them though, when I read about these things...

From most accounts, Edith put up with all of this because part of her innate personality: to be a caretaker and forgiving person. But oddly enough, this didn't always translate to her kids. She appeared to run hot and cold in waves, not just with her own children but with all kids. Strange in one of the western world's most beloved authors for children, no? I found it fascinating. She has this talent and does it, and she sacrifices a lot to adopt her husband's out-of-wedlock kids with her own friend, and she loves them… but then she also just couldn't even sometimes. I get it, Edith, I get it.

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Mort by Terry Pratchett (1987)

Mort by Terry Pratchett

A cleverer person than me would probably open a piece like this with the argument that if death (Death? DEATH?) is the ultimate expression of reality we’ll all face one day, then perhaps fantastical literature is humanity’s way of expressing hope in the face of that truth: Storytelling as an act of creation beyond the reach of that grim but grinning full stop that awaits us at the end of our own stories.

I would likely also nod to the way that myth, folklore and fantasy have always ultimately been one of our finest tools for telling ourselves stories about what happens beyond the last page as it were - ‘what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil’ as Shakespeare had it - but really I’m here to talk about Mort, not death, and while the latter may be somewhat unavoidable in the long run I am here to fully recommend introducing yourself to the former as soon as possible.

Mort is the fourth book in Terry Pratchett’s epic Discworld sequence, but to my mind it’s actually one of the best titles to introduce new readers to his work.

His first two books, The Colour of Magic and its direct sequel The Light Fantastic are hilariously re-readable romps for SF&F fans where the territory is instantly recognisable even if Terry’s books are the notable exception on the fantasy bookshelf because they don’t bother to include a map.

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The Woven Path by Robin Jarvis (1995)

The Woven Path

When I try to explain why Robin Jarvis’ books are so compelling to people who haven’t read his work, I reflexively reach for the word un-patronising. It’s the best way I can explain it; the reason I was so drawn to Jarvis’ books when I was young. Yet as an adult, I found myself hesitating before giving The Woven Path to a distinctly worldly ten-year-old; not because I thought he might roll his eyes at the teddy bear on the cover, but because I was concerned the book might leave him an emotional wreck. 

And yet, this is precisely what I loved, and still love, about Jarvis. As a kid who was small for my age and looked younger than I was, I inevitably ended up being talked down to, and so was always on the look out for things that might be trying to patronise me. At first, I was doubtful of the Jarvis books I encountered, with their garish, cartoony covers. But then I opened The Alchymist’s Cat, book one in the Deptford Histories trilogy and…

How wrong I was.

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Best of British Fantasy - Launch Shindig

From the publisher:

On the afternoon of Saturday 1st June, 2019, NewCon Press will be hosting a Fantasy Fan-Dingo, unveiling two fabulous new anthologies, Best of British Fantasy 2018 (edited by Jared Shurin) and Legends 3: Stories in Honour of David Gemmell

The party will be in the upstairs function room at The Star of Kings, starting at 1.00 pm. There will be free wine, there will be free beer, and a bar once they run out. There will also be a Scribble of Writers (there's no official collective noun for a group of authors, but this one appeals to me).

Please join us - it looks like a lot of the BOBF contributors will be there, making it a real buffet of the very best!

Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (2001)

Mortal Engines
Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

There’s something pleasingly difficult to categorise about Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series. Is it YA? Science fiction? Post-apocalyptic? A resource-constrained dystopia? Should it be classified as steampunk?

You could make convincing arguments for and against each of these propositions, but regardless of what you decide, it is determinedly its own thing. A wildly inventive romp, traversing continents and leaving deep impressions on every page. And, if elements of the world Reeve builds conjure echoes of Brexit, or Trump’s wall building, or a myriad of urgent environmental concerns, then that’s because the scope he plays with is so undeniably epic.

Mortal Engines, the first in the quartet and published back in 2001, begins sometime beyond the 35th Century, a long time after the Sixty Minute War, with London chasing a small mining town across the dried out bed of the old North Sea.

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Fantasy Fridays

The Fellowship of the Ring

Cute promotion for Good Omens - a music video from the Chattering Order of St. Beryl.

Helen Donohoe on the power of Young Adult fiction:

In many ways, young adult fiction is the most serious literature in contemporary culture. Its serious intent expresses itself in ways that many critics struggle to comprehend, but some of the bravest stories right now are being told in the young adult form.

StoryCon: a new, free convention in Scotland for teenage writers and illustrators!

The shortlist for the Women's Prize has been announced.

The Tolkien movie cometh, prompting much discussion.

Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson (1979)

Which Witch?
Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson

Rats (literary ones) have been a big influence on me. From James Herbert’s horror stories at an age when I shouldn’t have been reading them to Alan Moore’s use of a rat king as a fearsome science-fiction weapon in The Ballad of Halo Jones, they’ve been present in many of my formative genre reading experiences.

It was no different when I came across fantasy, and discovered a book that contained one of the most memorable use of rats I’ve ever read. It still sticks in the mind with incredibly clarity now, and I first read it over thirty years ago. The sequence was so disturbing to me that I read it many times over because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It fascinated me to find something so grotesque in a book of light comic fantasy, and it taught me something new: behind every happy tale there lurks a darkness that fantasy can confront, particularly when it’s aimed at children.

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